Friday, October 29, 2004

More on the Venetucci Legacy

Well here's a family that was into marrying late. I doubt I'll be driving past the Venetucci farm on my way to work every day in a few years. I hope the Catholic church that they dedicated their land to makes it a nice place. I wonder if they are waiting until Bambi passes away? Apparently none of the other sons had children or at least not boys to carry on the family name?

Venetucci family ties still bind


When the bronze statue of Nick Venetucci is dedicated Saturday morning amid speeches and song, missing will be Mary Ann Feiring — the last Venetucci.

The ceremony Saturday will honor five decades of generosity by Venetucci, who became legendary for giving pumpkins to area children who visited his Security farm. He died Sept. 7 at age 93 of a massive stroke.

His death leaves only Feiring, 81, the youngest child and sole survivor of Nicolo and Marguarite Venetucci, a pioneering Italian immigrant farming couple who both died in 1961.

Besides Nick, Feiring had a sister, Nina, and four other brothers, Rocco, Mike, Joe and Tony. All are dead.

Feiring wants to attend the ceremony and represent the family. But she said her health is too frail to travel from her home in San Marcos, Calif.

“I’ll be thinking about the ceremony,” Feiring said. “Definitely.”

Truth is, even if she could travel, Feiring isn’t sure her presence would be appropriate after years of strained relationships within her family.

The cause of the rift?

In 1957, at age 34, she ran off with her boyfriend, got married and moved to Texas.

She said her family couldn’t accept her husband, Duane Feiring, because he was a non-Italian, non-Catholic, divorced man.

Strike one. Strike two. Strike three.

“They never would have approved ” Feiring said. “They had a feeling that I deserted them. But I wanted my own little girls so bad I could scream.”

She said it was expected within the family that she’d stay and work on the farm alongside her brothers, cooking, cleaning and taking care of them and her parents.

Feiring wanted more. She said she realized that, at her age, her chances of getting married and having a family were dwindling.

Then, like a fairy tale, Duane Feiring entered her life.

The memory is vivid in her mind.

In fact, decades seem to melt away, and she is instantly back in the 10-room farmhouse along U.S. 85-87 where the family moved in 1936 after farming for years in Papeton, an enclave of Italian coal miners. The area now is the Venetian Village neighborhood near Fillmore Street and Nevada Avenue.

Feiring recalled that her Singer sewing machine had broken as she patched a pair of her brother’s overalls.

So she went to town to the Singer Co. store, on Tejon Street at Colorado Avenue, on a Saturday evening to buy a belt for the machine.

“Duane came out of the back room and asked: ‘Have you seen our new sewing machine and vacuum sweeper?’” she said. “He was quite a salesman.”

Feiring wasn’t interested, though, and left with her new belt.

“On Monday, I’m doing the family wash . . . and he showed up with that new sewing machine and vacuum sweeper,” she said. “Duane said it gave him an excuse to come back and see me.”

A year later, in June 1957, Singer promoted him to district manager. But the district was in Texas.

“It was either I join him or forget I ever knew him,” she said.

So she married him and went with him to Texas.

Eventually, they bought a restaurant in Seattle in 1974 and retired to California in 1982. They have two daughters and five grandchildren.

Before she married and moved to Texas, Mary Ann introduced Nick to her friend, Bambi Marcantonio, who was teaching at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.

After a 27-year courtship, Nick and Bambi were married in 1984.

Feiring is uncomfortable talking about family issues. Despite the rift, she stayed in close touch with her parents, sister and brothers. She said they even reconciled as the years passed.

“I saw them when I came back and talked to them on the phone,” she said. “I saw Tony at the retirement home before he died, and there were no hard feelings. I was still his little sister.”

She last saw Nick in 1997 when she came for a long visit. She said her memories of the family are happy.

“I have fond remembrances,” she said. “We had lots of family gatherings. I think of those good old days. I live with those memories.”

Feiring takes pride in the way the Venetucci family is honored across the city with an elementary school and a boulevard, and now with a statue of Nick.

There is comfort knowing the farmhouse where she cooked over a wood and coal stove, its walls lined with family photos, still remains — hardly changed from when she packed her bags and left to follow her heart.

Even the sewing machine — which led her to the love of her life — still sits where she left it 47 years ago, kind of like a statue of its own, honoring the struggles of a farm family.

Which brings her back to Saturday’s ceremony and her pride at the honors being bestowed on Nick.

“I’d be there if I could,” she said, her voice trailing off. “I sure hope you have a nice day for it.”


The bronze statue of pumpkin farmer Nick Venetucci will be unveiled and dedicated at 11 a.m. Saturday on the north lawn of the Pioneers Museum, 215 S. Tejon St.

The public is invited.

There will be a flag presentation, singing, and speeches by Vice Mayor Richard Skorman, Widefield School District 3 Superintendent Mark Hatchell and Bambi Venetucci.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Coronado on MTV

My high school is featured on a show on MTV airing right now. It is about a senior prank to close school two years ago. If you're interested it airs at the following times (all times Eastern): Tue 10/12 4:00 PM Wed 10/13 4:00 PM Thu 10/14 4:00 PM Fri 10/15 12:30 AM Fri 10/15 1:00 AM Fri 10/15 1:30 AM Fri 10/15 4:00 PM Sat 10/16 3:00 AM Sat 10/16 3:30 AM Sat 10/16 4:00 AM Sat 10/16 4:30 AM Sat 10/16 5:00 AM Sat 10/16 5:30 AM Sat 10/16 7:00 AM Sat 10/16 7:30 AM Sat 10/16 8:00 AM Sun 10/17 7:00 AM Sun 10/17 7:30 AM Sun 10/17 8:00 AM Sun 10/17 8:30 AM Mon 10/18 4:00 PM Tue 10/19 4:00 PM


Oct 12, 1:56 PM EDT

Reeve Championed Spinal Cord Research

AP Medical Writer

Christopher Reeve often said he wanted to be known for something other than playing Superman. But it was real life - not another movie role - that gave the actor the chance to star in his biggest drama: as a spinal cord injury victim championing research in hope that people like him would someday be able to walk again.

"He put a human face on the dreams," said Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research. "He used his star power as a celebrity for a great good that transcends anything that most of us will ever achieve."

Reeve died Sunday after developing a serious bloodstream infection from a bedsore, a common problem for paralyzed people. He went into cardiac arrest Saturday at his home in Pound Ridge, N.Y., then fell into a coma, dying the next day at a hospital.

As an actor and a man, Reeve embodied strength and athleticism and performed his own movie stunts, including his 1978 starring role as Superman. It made him famous but he longed to, as he often put it, "escape the cape" and take on other characters.

Other movies and plays gave him that chance, but nothing compared to the horseback riding accident in 1995 that left him with a broken neck. His passionate efforts for science, often as he wheezed from a respirator in his wheelchair, are his greatest legacy, admirers said. Reeve never walked again but his dream of doing so is now a plausible one for thousands of others who are paralyzed.

"The biggest hope is in biological research to allow the spinal cord to heal itself and even regenerate. That's just over the horizon but closer than ever before. Most people feel within the next 10 to 15 years, somewhere within our lifetimes," said Dr. Jack Ziegler, president of the American Spinal Injury Association.

Some even thought it would come in time for Reeve.

"I thought it was going to happen," said Dr. Doug Kerr, a Johns Hopkins University neurologist who works with stem cells - controversial research that Reeve advocated.

"It was Star Wars science fiction, this concept of rewiring the nervous system," but Reeve "thrust this field forward by leaps and bounds," Kerr said.

Reeve endured years of therapy to allow him to breathe for longer periods without a respirator while seeking a cure that would allow him to walk again. He sparked hope even in many skeptics in 2000, when he was able to move an index finger. He thrust himself harder into workouts to strengthen his legs and arms, and electrical stimulation of his muscles allowed him to sporadically regain sensation in some other parts of his body.

As Reeve transformed his body, he also morphed into an advocate, first for better benefits for people with long-term disabilities, and then for science to help the 250,000 Americans who suffer paralysis. The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation has given $40 million to spinal cord research since he merged it with the American Paralysis Foundation in 1999.

Some of that has been for embryonic stem cell research, a promising but contentious field of medicine that the Bush administration has severely restricted because it involves destroying embryos. Scientists think these early, all-purpose cells can be coaxed to form nerves and specialized tissues to repair a host of woes.

Reeve and fellow actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, have helped make stem cells a major campaign issue between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry. Kerry even mentioned Reeve during the second presidential debate on Friday and praised him Monday in remarks before a speech in Santa Fe, N.M.

"He was an inspiration to all of us and gave hope to millions of Americans who are counting on lifesaving cures that science and research can provide," Kerry said. "In part because of his work, millions will one day walk again."

At Hopkins, research a few years ago demonstrated that stem cells could allow paralyzed mice and rats to do just that.

"This is one of the most difficult tasks you can ask a stem cell to do - to rewire, to extend axons and to form new connections at great distances to restore function," said Kerr. "We're clearly getting there."

Reeve "appropriately brought a sense of urgency to this issue," said Perry head of the research coalition, which favors stem cell science. "On Capitol Hill he was such a highly regarded figure and was so focused on the message."

A research center on paralytic spinal cord injuries, the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, was established in Reeve's name at the University of California, Irvine.

"He was such an immense personality, such a force in the field," said Dr. Oswald Stewart, the center's director. "He created an enthusiasm for what we do in the lab."

Reeve also reached out to people beyond those with spinal cord injuries.

"He was able to inspire hope in patients with diabetes, Alzheimer's, cancer, Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease ... tragic and life-threatening conditions that face tens of millions of Americans," Perry said.

© 2004 The Associated Press.